Watching the trailer of Thirike, you think you are in for another drama in which by the end of the film you have emptied a box of tissues with your eyes burning. Surely there are moments of "lightness" even in the trailer but the films that we have got in Indian cinema that involves a main character suffering a disease (in most cases it is an incurable one - to increase the sale of the tissues) and it never ends well - well, almost never.
Thirike, on the other hand, is more rooted, sensible and logical. For one, it takes up a developmental defect - Down Syndrome. Two, the story not even for a moment, demands sympathy from the audience for the Achachan's (elder brother) character. Three, it has a happy ending in its own right.
Before we move any further, let me give you a short summary of the plot without any spoilers - well as much as possible. Thirike is the story of two brothers. No strike that. It is a love story that has two brothers in it. The love is from the younger brother (George Kora as Thomas) for the Achachan (Gopikrishna Varma as Achachan a.k.a Ismu a.k.a Sebastian/Sebumon). It is the love of Thomas for his native village and his parents. It is the love of a mother (Shantikrishna as Fathima) for her son (Ismu). It is the love of a mother for her son (Sarasa Balussery as Ammachi) Paulose.
Thomas (George Kora with an uncanny resemblance to the Tamil actor Arun Vijay) is a chef in one of the local bakeries in Kochin. He has an elder brother with Down Syndrome. He believes that no one can take care of him better than himself after they are separated from their parents. When a situation arises where his Achachan (a Malayalam endearment for elder brother) will be taken away from him, what he does to be with him forms the rest of the story. That's enough of the plot.
The reasons why this is an important and interesting film are many. For starters, there is no tear-duct-wrenching-drama with wailing violin in the background that runs end-to-end. Each of the characters, right up to the inconsequential (only to the progression of the plot) and obnoxious random kid at the birthday party has a role to play. Each of these characters has an opening and a closure. There are no extraordinary shots that would make you go, "How did they do that?" or action sequences that make a mockery of gravity. Simply because the directors (George Kora and Sam Xavier) know that it isn't required. They prove that it is possible to make a good emotional film sans the wailing violins and the tragic deaths on the screen.
The writing of the film is so good that despite working in a universe where it would have been easy to make all the characters too good to be true, the writers decided to make Thomas a crook. As I said earlier, he doesn't trust anyone when it comes to taking care of his brother with Down Syndrome. He is sure he will not be treated well. So, he doesn't flinch even a bit in barging into the house of his "Achachan's" foster parents to pamper him with gifts. He doesn't mind flattering the customers so that he can earn a few "brownie change" - so much so that the owner of the bakery quips, "Your tips exceed the bakery's profits". He doesn't think twice before making a girl fall for him just because he knows that she has the money for the gifts that he wishes to give his Achachan. It is completely another fact that he gets what he deserves towards the end of the film. He is all that you (if not you, at least I) will definitely be if you are put into such difficult situations.
The actors are extremely good in their roles and fit their characters like a glove. There is not even a single frame where the actors go overboard. Even in the scene where Sneha (a fantastic Namitha Krishnamurthy) discovers his ploy we don't get a heroine throwing a tantrum at how he tricked her. Instead, we get a single shot that involves her giving Thomas an earful and slap as an afterthought. This shot doesn't have even Thomas justifying his acts, all he says is, "You came for your car right? Here are the keys. Now, go away!". Any other film would have definitely had a song with Sid Sriram making squeezing our tear glands. These are potential traps where it is very easy for the directors to lose the vision of the story that they want to tell and get into the vicious cycle of "catering to the audience".
Shantikrishnan as Fathima and Gopan Mangat as Rafiq with their limited scope deliver fine performances. Very often we have seen stepmothers being completely apathetic or over the top with their affection for a special child. But none of that loud drama happens in this film. In fact, Fathima breaks down only once when she thinks that Ismu has run away at his own will. The endearing and lovely Ammachi (Sarasa Balussery) will steal your heart with her old fashioned ideologies and yet extremely clever quips of the ways of the world. A scene that involves the brothers' maternal uncle is a complete laughter riot where the old lady goes on and on about why he would think that the old lady is arrogant.
The screenplay never loses focus and stays on its goal - to tell a story of a return (that has a physical and obvious meaning that you see on the screen along with a separate subtext which reveals itself in the end). There are no flashbacks or dance numbers. There are no fight sequences where Thoma saves his brother from a group of goons. Even the scene where such a special child gets ridiculed is shot in a unique manner. I waited a couple of beats for the child who insulted Isamu to get an earful or a sad Ismu running to his mother, but none of that happened. I was as surprised as I was relieved.
George Kora as the writer-director shows his mettle with a taut screenplay and the vision and courage to narrate the story that he wants to say without getting bogged down by the idea of "catering to the audience". It is important that such stories are celebrated and given their due recognition. Catch this beauty streaming on Neestream and let us know what you liked about the film and what didn't work for you in the comments below.